On the Infinite in Painting

My concern here is not with sublime prospects.

The infinite’ that concerns me here is more prosaic and technical. It is linked to George Cantor’s notion of multiple infinities.

Of course I am not dealing with numerical prospects, but with aesthetic ones. We have the sense that art is a constantly expanding set of possibilities. No longer content with traditional media and conventional institutional contexts, contemporary art exists only at the point that it risks and describes new limits. Within this context painting can appear as a restricted and aesthetically exhausted field. Why bother painting anymore? Everything that can possibly be done with paint has been done. Every brush stroke can only reference other brush strokes. Etc.

But this is mistaken in my view – and here I am not concerned with arguing for the infinite formal potential of any given painted surface, but rather that the attitudes of painting are open and malleable. The sense of restriction is linked more to an inability to imagine other relations to painting than to any intrinsic limitations of the medium. The medium is ultimately not simply a formally, materially constituted thing. Nor is it constituted necessarily by aesthetic regimes of representation or abstraction. It can take as yet other and unknown forms and be informed by other as yet unknown cultural relations.

My sense is that we imagine artistic innovation in crude terms as simply an expansion outwards, when it as available – and even perhaps more so – within the tissue of evidently well-trodden ground. And it may be that this infinity available within any given medium (within the thinking of medium and against the necessity of formal conception of this term) is greater than the crude infinity of x = f+1; of linear motion beyond the last limit, which can all too often collapse into a simple alternation between inside and outside, art and non-art.

There are possibilities within painting that have not yet been discovered and these infinitely extend beyond whatever has already been discovered. The trick is to recognise the openness of this set and its essential uncountability.

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